A Hamlet timeline – chronicle of events

      Setting the Timeline – considerations

Claudius – planning my foul murder

King Hamlet's funeral – where was Hamlet?

Gertrude & Claudius – adultery or not?

Horatio – Hamlet's friend?

Horatio – is he passion's slave?

Polonius – the evil that men do

Ophelia's love? – did she love Hamlet?

Ophelia closetted – Polonius on love

      O help xxx ....... – Olivier's version

Ophelia's change – is Hamlet suspicious?

Hamlet feigns madness – protective "cover"

Is Hamlet mad? – Polonius's opinion

The Trial of Claudius – Hamlet's prosecution

Hamlet kills Polonius – stabs the "Voice"

Laertes v Hamlet – poisoned foil

Ophelia's death – a recipe

Hamlet's age – digging up the past

Yorick – something rotting in Denmark

Betting on Hamlet – the fencing match

Hamlet's fencing skill – better than Laertes

Hamlet's revenge – the rest is silence

Hamlet kills Polonius

Why did Hamlet do it?

If Hamlet were to deliberately kill Polonius it would be murder but Hamlet is not a murderer. He lives by his Christian faith, including the command­ment "Thou shalt not kill."

Claudius is a different case. He is a murderer and ought to be punished for his crime. The Ghost persuades Hamlet to not only execute Claudius but, imperatively, to revenge the murder by ensuring Claudius goes to hell rather than heaven. It must be clearly understood that Hamlet is not the initiator of this action but rather the Ghost who persuades him to do it. In modern parlance, Hamlet is persuaded to be the "hit man" of the Ghost.

When Hamlet has an opportunity to kill Claudius, he finds him kneeling in prayer. To kill him whilst praying, according to Hamlet's Christian beliefs, would sent Claudius directly to heaven and fail to attain the revenge the Ghost requires. Hamlet, therefore, defers killing Claudius until he can catch him in a sin that will guarantee to send him to hell:

'When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At gaming, swearing; or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in 't -
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damn'd and black
As hell, whereto it goes.'

Only a few minutes later, Hamlet stabs and kills the person behind the arras. Regardless of who Hamlet thought it might be, he never, for a moment, thought it was Claudius. Why not? Because if he thought it was Claudius he most definitely would not have stabbed him simply because the act would have had no element of revenge. It was for that very reason, only minutes earlier, he had refrained from killing Claudius who was praying at the time. Merely killing Claudius was not the point, for to kill him would send him straight to heaven and that is not what the ghost had asked for. The ghost wanted revenge and for Claudius to end up in hell. Hamlet intended following that idea and stated the circumstances under which Claudius could be killed without hope of salvation. Neither Claudius being behind a curtain in his wife’s room, nor Claudius having just prayed, had any element of evil in it. Consequently, if Hamlet thought the 'voice' was Claudius he most certainly would not stab it, but because he did stab the 'voice' then, clearly, he did not believe it was Claudius.

Another reason why Hamlet never considering Claudius as the person behind the arras is a very practical one. SCENE III. A room in the castle: Claudius gave Rosencrantz and Guildenstern their instructions to take Hamlet to England. As they left, Polonius entered to tell Claudius he will hide behind the arras in Gertrude's room to listen to what Hamlet says to her. After he left, Claudius soliloquised about having murdered King Hamlet. He then retires and kneels, which suggests he went into an inner room (a chapel?) to pray. Hamlet came in and found Claudius in pray. Hamlet could have killed him but instead left him and went direct to Gertrude's room. He arrived there only a minute or so after Polonius had got there. Instantly, Polonius concealed himself behind the arras and Hamlet came in. About a minute later Hamlet killed Polonius. All this happened so fast that it was impractical for Claudius to get there before Hamlet and to conceal himself behind the arras.

So why did Hamlet stab the 'voice'? Quite likely it was self-defence. Given the dramatic ending of “The Mousetrap”, Hamlet would realise he had suddenly come under life-threatening danger from Claudius. Recall that Hamlet had feigned madness so that Claudius would consider him harmless. But, during the play he had completely blown his cover, and his life was in danger. Claudius had, indeed, planned to have Hamlet murdered. Hamlet, though aware of a potential threat, had no idea where, or when, an attempt on his life might take place. All he could do was be prepared and constantly alert.

Because Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were Claudius's men, Hamlet did not trust them. Guildenstern tells Hamlet his mother wants to see him. Then Polonius says the same thing. He doesn't trust him either, and it could be a trap. Hamlet deliberately delays and then goes armed with a sword and ready to meet assassination attempts on his life. Obviously, Claudius could easily have put assassins in hiding behind the arras in Gertrude's bedroom ready to leap out and kill Hamlet the moment they got a signal.

When Hamlet heard the voice from behind the arras call out "What, ho! help, help, help!", he may have thought the assassin was about to strike and was calling on his fellow assassins to leap from hiding to kill him and his mother. His instant action, to save himself and defend Gertrude, was to stab the voice.